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Jessada “O” Janpen, 25, the Kusoldharm Rescue Foundation volunteer who almost died down a sewer full of poison gas almost two months ago is back at work with the foundation.
O leaped down into the sewer in a heroic effort to rescue four workers who had been overcome lethal hydrogen sulphide fumes, but instead became a victim himself. Colleagues pulled him out in time to save him from death, but for the first few days afterwards he was in a coma.
O, who has been working with the Kusoldharm Foundation for four years, told The Phuket News, “My body and my lungs are back to normal.
“At first, my left lung was like it had cancer. It was black, and the doctors almost removed it. But it gradually recovered, so they canceled that plan.”
His recovery was partly because the Kusoldharm Foundation ordered “super expensive medication” from Bangkok to clean his lungs. It worked. His recovery was also accelerated by a cash donation from Eastern Thai Consulting 1992 Co (ETC), whose workers he was trying to save in the sewer.
But it was touch-and-go in the first few days. For 10 days he was in a coma and on life support. Doctor said that his body was working at “only 20 per cent” and he might not survive. They set a deadline of noon on April 5 for turning off his life support.
On the morning of that day, O woke up.
“In the hospital, I knew I was sleeping but I didn’t understand why I had a lot of wires around my neck and I felt like someone was spraying my mouth all the time. I felt so weak.
“When I woke up, I couldn’t move at all. I could only blink. Three days later, I could move a little bit.”
The gradual recovery continued. “The doctor said that I had to have physical therapy. But I’m stubborn. I didn’t want to [stay in the hospital], so I asked a friend to bring me some crutches and I started to walk.
“On April 13 the doctor allowed me to go back home after he saw that I could walk by myself.”
The recovery has continued. “I’m better but I still can’t lift heavy things much because I get tired easily.”
He says he remembers nothing of what happened after he climbed down into the sewer, where four men lay unconscious.
Colleagues have helped him patch it together with their own accounts. “We didn’t know what had happened to the four men – we just thought they had no air in the sewer and were unconscious.
“In fact, a man from ETC was about to climb down when we arrived, but when he saw us he climbed back out again. If we had arrived any later, there would have been five dead.
“When I got into the sewer, the very second I got to the ground, I felt as though something was squeezing my chest. I didn’t smell a thing, though.
“But I knew that something was wrong, so I started to climb back up the ladder. Suddenly, I felt my arms go weak a I fell down again into the hole.”
“Three of my friends were waiting for me outside the manhole. They didn’t realise that when I was climbing up I was already in trouble. Then I fell. Nne of my colleagues managed to grab my hand but I was too heavy, and he couldn’t hold it for long so I fell back to the bottom.
O was wearing an oxygen mask at the time, but he explained, “I think I breathed in the [hydrogen sulphide anyway – there are small holes at the mask that can let air in.”
The rescue team reaised they had to move fast before he died from oxygen deprivation or ended up a vegetable. Natthagorn “Not” Gomutthapol grabbed an oxygen tank and ent down into the hole. Swiftly he attached ropes to everyone in the hole and within three minutes they had all been winched up.
Not drove O to Vachira Phuket Hospital but when they got there he, too, collapsed.
Two other members of the rescue men had to be hospitalised, receiving oxygen and saline drips for several hours. Another five were also affected by the gas, though not enough to go to hospital.
The almost fatal accident has not damped O’s courage or stopped him wanting to help people.
“If this kind of accident happened again tomorrow, I would go down and try to save people again. But next time, I hope I would have better equipment. We are now waiting for new equipment the foundation has just ordered.
“My courage comes mainly from my colleagues and my family.”